All Scripture is “God-breathed” and is, therefore, valuable for teaching us and correcting us. No Scripture is more inspired that any other. We know that the words of the Apostle Paul, or the prophet Isaiah, are equally inspired as the words of Jesus. But it does seem that people sit up straighter and listen more carefully when it is Jesus that is speaking. And perhaps this is one reason why Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse” has taken on greater interest in the matter of biblical prophecy.
Our plan is to take the next few monthly articles and carefully explore this important prophetic teaching given by Jesus. Jesus will give basic facts about the future, but His emphasis is on application. About 75% of this discourse is an application of His prophetic teachings, which gives us insights into the purposes of prophecy.
THE THREE BASIC PURPOSES FOR BIBLICAL PROPHECY
God did not reveal truths about future events simply to satisfy our natural curiosity about such things. There are basically three reasons for biblical prophecy. First, prophecy reminds us that God is sovereign over all creation. We can get overwhelmed by the presence and power of evil that is manifested in leaders, nations, and even the folks down the street. It seems that life today is out of control. We can have a sense of being helpless and hopeless. But that is not reality for the believer. God’s plans and purposes are set in place, and He will do what He wants to do when He wants to do it. God is not intimidated nor is He impressed by rebellious people. Psalm 2 states that “He who sits in the heavens laughs, He scoffs at them. He will speak to them in His anger, and terrify them in His anger.” Psalm 2 goes on to say that the Father has already established the Son as ruler of the earth (Psa. 2:4-9). Those end time events are future to us but they are a “done deal” as far as God is concerned. Isaiah 40:12-26 adds to Psalm 2, giving a perspective on God’s sovereignty over the “powerful” nations of the earth. Second, prophecy is given to impact us TODAY. When we learn about future events and believe the Bible’s teachings, we develop a “two-world” view; living faithfully in this world, but with an eye on the world to come. Our decisions and choices become more in line with the Lord’s standards. We become less likely to let sin take root in our lives, but quickly confess when we do sin (1 John 2:28-3:3; 2 Peter 3:10-14). Prophecy helps us live godly lives. And third, prophecy reveals the terrible fate of those who do not accept God’s gracious offer of salvation through Jesus. The person who does not place their faith in Jesus Christ is forever separated from God, experiencing nothing of the grace of God. They will be in the condition of “eternal ruin” (2 Thess. 1:9). It will be like being eternally depressed; where life has no meaning at all and there is absolutely no hope of things changing. And, as most are aware, they will be put into a place called the “lake of fire,” which is a place of torment (Rev. 20:14-16). What they experience is terrible, and what they do not experience is terrible also. And this condition is “eternal” (Matt. 25:46).
THE SETTING OF JESUS’ OLIVET DISCOURSE
- The Time of the Sermon in the Life of Jesus. Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse on Tuesday afternoon of the “passion week.” While in the Jerusalem Temple that day, the disciples pointed out certain impressive features of the Temple. Jesus surprisingly declared that the Temple was going to be completely destroyed. This naturally caused the disciples to raise some questions about Jesus’ comment. As Jesus and four of His disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) exited on the east side of the Temple, they went up onto the Mount of Olives where Jesus would answer their questions and would set forth in general terms, the outline of future events.
- The Spiritual Condition of the Nation of Israel. Before they left the Temple and went to the Mount of Olives, Jesus had given the most blistering denunciation of Israel’s religious leaders. Seven times Jesus charged them with being “hypocrites” (Matt. 23:1-29). (The word hupocritos was used of actors on the stage. Actors pretend to be something they are not. The religious leaders pretended to be holy and lovers of God, but it was just an act). Jesus called them “blind guides” since they led the people away from God and turned them into “sons of hell.” These leaders had led Israel into the rejection of their own prophesied Messiah, and so committed the greatest sin in the history of Israel. The leaders and those who followed them would now experience the judgment of God. That generation in Israel was doomed, though individuals could still save themselves from this fate. This was an emphasis of the Apostle Peter on the “day of Pentecost” (Acts 2:40). That generation was in serious trouble as the clouds of judgment were forming on the horizon. It must be remembered that this judgment was on that generation of Israelites and was not a rejection of God’s covenantal relationship with national Israel. That generation would be judged, but God would be faithful to His promises and bring about fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant.
THREE KEYS IN INTERPRETING THE OLIVET DISCOURSE
- The Questions of the Four Disciples. The gospels record the questions of the Apostles, which focused on the destruction of the Temple and on the Second Coming. Their questions assumed that they thought the Temple destruction and Christ’s coming would be at the same time. However, as Jesus answered their questions, He made it clear that those two events were separate from one another. Luke records the answer to the destruction of the Temple, which took place in A.D. 70. Matthew gives the answer to the question about Jesus’ return and the sign of that return. What is essential to observe concerning the disciples’ questions is that they were about the future of Israel; Israel’s land, Temple and Messiah. The Apostles were not asking about gentiles nor were they asking about the church. Their knowledge of the church was almost non-existent. Months earlier, Jesus had stated: “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). But there is no indication that the Apostles understood what that meant or even that they wanted to know more. Therefore, when analyzing the Olivet Discourse, the subject matter relates to Israel alone. This will apply to the heart of the discourse as well as the six parables where application is made. This is about Israel.
- The Constant Use of the Word “YOU.” Jesus used the word “you” many times in Matthew 23-25. Who was He talking about? Fundamentally, “you” refers to Israel, but there is more to it. It is not possible to look at every use of “you,” but the following are good examples which will lead us to an understanding of who Jesus was talking to.
- 23:34 – the evil religious leaders are the ones being spoken to. They have rejected Messiah Jesus and they will continue persecuting those sent by God.
- 23:35 – the “you” looks back centuries to the killing of God’s prophet by leaders of Israel from an earlier generation. Obviously, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not do the killing.
- 23:37 – here the “you” refers to all the nation of Israel who were rejecting Jesus Messiah. It is not just the leaders but also the people who are following them.
- 23:39 – a future generation of Israelites will come to faith in Jesus. “You” will believe in Him, and this is the prerequisite for the Christ’s Second Coming.
- 24:2 – At that moment Jesus is speaking to His men; they are the “you.”
- 24:6 – Jesus is speaking about the early days of the future Tribulation when “you” will be hearing of various judgments. This is a future generation.
- 24:9 – a future generation who believes in Jesus in the Tribulation.
- 24:15, 33 – “You” will see the ‘abomination of desolation’. “You” will see all the signs of the Tribulation. Again, this is a future generation of Israelites.
In each case, “you” is speaking of Israel, as represented by different groups in Israel, over centuries of time. “You” never refers to gentiles or to the church.
- The Uniqueness of the Tribulation Period. The O.T. prophets saw the Tribulation period as unique (see Daniel 12:1; Jeremiah 30:7; Joel 2:2). And Jesus stated the same thing. It would be the absolute worst of times (Matt. 24:21). When Jesus speaks of famines, diseases, earthquakes and even war, we must not see these as similar in intensity and/or location to what goes on in the world today. For example, earthquakes in the Tribulation cause every mountain and island to be moved out of their places (Rev. 6:15; 16:18, 20). Those earthquakes are not along fault lines but the whole crust of the earth is reshaped. Today’s famines, pandemics, earthquakes, etc. are not the same intensity of those in the Tribulation. They are distinct. This reality should keep us from thinking that the Tribulation is just more of the same or even that these things in our day are signs of the nearness of the Tribulation. They are not. With these basic interpretive guidelines in place, our next study will be on the coming 7 years of Tribulation on this earth. You might find it profitable to read and re-read Matthew 24 and 25 before our second study.